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Regionalized Emergency Dispatching Proposal Draws More Fire

The Newtown Police Union opposes a town proposal that would have municipal emergency radio dispatching for 911, police, fire, and ambulance calls regionalized at a privately owned dispatching center in Prospect.

The town has proposed regionalization as a cost-savings measure which would reduce spending by approximately $149,000 annually.

Currently, all town 911, police, fire, and ambulance dispatching is done by the Newtown Emergency Communications Center at 3 Main Street in the same building that houses the police station. Two town-employed dispatchers staff the facility around the clock. The town has nine emergency dispatchers.

The topic of regionalizing town dispatching, which has been under consideration in one form or another for several years, surfaced again at a Police Commission session earlier this month. Police Commission members raised strong concerns about whether regionalizing dispatching would do more harm than good in terms of police operations.

Some commission members said they want to learn more about the proposal. The Police Commission is expected to meet with a two-member town study panel to discuss the issue.

Jason Chickos, a town dispatcher who attended the April 1 commission session, pointed out that regionalization would result in some local dispatchers losing their jobs.

Asked to respond to the regionalization proposal, Scott Ruszczyk, police union president, provided a statement.

“The police union is against regionalization,” he said. “It will slow down dispatch times, [and] seconds can save the lives of civilians or police officers.”

He added, “A government agency has the public interest as its top priority, [but] a private company has profit as its top priority. Employees located in Prospect will not be familiar with the nuances of Newtown.

“A company that is privately held [would control] who is and who is not employed by them, not the Town of Newtown,” he noted.

“The very meager savings reported are a ‘best case scenario’ and unlikely to be realized,” according to Mr Ruszczyk.

Asked for comment on the regionalization proposal, Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps Chief Mike Collins said, “We need a localized, personalized [dispatching] situation.”

“I prefer the local [dispatching] approach to the regional,” he added.

“What we’ve got is working,” he said.

While there may be some cost advantages to regionalizing, there also may be some drawbacks, Mr Collins explained. It is unclear if the cost advantages would provide enough of a reason to regionalize, and “it’s a lot easier if it’s local,” he said.

Mr Collins said he has not reviewed the proposal to regionalize town dispatching in Prospect, but he will consider it. “I will do some research,” he said.

Several years ago, a town proposal to consolidate Newtown’s dispatching with other area towns at a Danbury site was considered. That consolidation, however, never materialized.

Rob Manna, chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners, could not be reached for comment. That agency has representatives from all five local volunteer fire companies who review local fire protection issues.

Thomas Ramsdell, head of the town dispatchers’ union, could not be reached for comment.

Fire Marshal Bill Halstead said that he would be discussing the regionalization proposal with the town study panel.

“It needs study,” he said.

 

Assessing The Impacts

Asked to comment on the regionalization issue, First Selectman Pat Llodra provided a statement about the town regionalization study.

“This is a research effort to determine ‘all’ of the impacts of regionalizing dispatch services. We are searching out the entire set of facts and will bring those facts forth when the research is complete,” she said.

“We have an obligation to our community to explore ideas that may offer cost savings. To be unwilling to even do the hard work of researching those ideas is a disservice to the voters and tax payers,” she said.

“Any outcome of the research will have to be balanced against the overarching obligation for public safety. There are no circumstances which would propel us to recommend a change in service if that change compromised public safety. That is our core commitment and we do not waver from that obligation,” Mrs Llodra said.

“I think we can and should learn something from other municipalities that have regionalized their dispatch services in order to determine the legitimate impacts and that we should not presuppose outcomes that may or may not be real,” she added.

“I trust that we have the capacity to ask and answer difficult questions and to make our decisions based on real knowledge. I believe this process has to be transparent and should not be not shut down without fair and honest examination,” Mrs Llodra said.

Under a proposal advanced by Maureen Will, the town’s emergency communications director, the multiple functions of town emergency dispatching would be handled by Northwest Connecticut Public Safety Communication Center, Inc, in Prospect. The Prospect dispatching center lies about 25 miles from the Newtown police station.

The quality of regional dispatching would be just as good as local dispatching and potentially even better, Ms Will has said.

The Prospect center has dispatched various fire and ambulance crews for many years. Middlebury police last year became the first police agency to be dispatched by the Prospect center.

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